Special market: International People Mobility (IPM)
Special market: International People Mobility (IPM)
Leaving the pandemic behind us – what next?
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – especially on international travel – is clearly receding. However, there will be a “new normal”. The pandemic has clearly shown that alternative, “work from anywhere” models can indeed work, although this certainly has to be considered on the basis of the industry and activity in question.
The war in Ukraine has now had a direct and indirect impact on the countries affected, leading to a halt to business trips and secondments to these regions. Overall, this has heightened sensitivity to political risks and related issues such as prearrangements for expatriates, ongoing information on security-related aspects or assistance in crisis situations. It can be assumed that the necessary insurance cover will become both deeper (e.g. clarification vis-à-vis pandemics) and broader (e.g. by including additional services or income protection).
The global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on international business trips and secondments have been dramatic and, in some cases, led to a complete halt to international travel. Compared with 2019, the last year before COVD-19, global business travel has declined by up to 83 per cent.1
Although the second half of 2021 did see a slow, modest increase in business travel, the figures are nowhere near pre-pandemic levels.
Even today, some local restrictions and specific arrangements are still in place with regard to entry requirements and quarantine regulations.
Overall, the worldwide exceptional situation caused by the pandemic seems slowly to be returning to normal. An Aon survey of international customers has revealed that 82 per cent of companies surveyed have now resumed business travel across Europe. 75 per cent of respondents indicated that they were even taking business trips to continents beyond Europe.2
The war in Ukraine, however, has given rise to a second exceptional situation. Not only is this having an immediate impact on the countries directly involved, such as Ukraine and Russia, it is also affecting travel to their neighbouring countries.
These two exceptional situations have led to numerous new ways of working. Whether it be ”working from home”, “remote working”, hybrid working arrangements or “worktations” (taken from the words “work” and “vacation”) enabling employees to work from anywhere in the world even while on holiday, flexibility is the order of the day. The rules of the game are constantly evolving and are highly fluid. Consequently, many questions surrounding social security, labour and tax law will have to be revisited.
The crises have also shown that pure international health insurance may not be sufficient to provide professional, sustainable cover for employees on secondments abroad. This means that, more often than not, issues such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) or travel safety services are high on company agendas.
The focus of business trips and secondments is shifting from quantity (number of business trips) to quality (selective business trips). On the one hand, the pandemic has led to tougher scrutiny of the sustainability of frequent business trips. On the other hand, flexible and location-independent ways of working, such as remote working, have now become established and have proven themselves in many sectors.
At the same time, however, it has become evident across all industries that certain activities require physical contact between people. In sales and management in particular, figures show that more than 65 per cent of companies had already resumed global business travel during the first half of 2022. A further 19-28 per cent plan to resume travel in the second six months.3 This trend is expected to continue until the end of this year.
In light of the new forms of working, the ongoing war in Ukraine and not least an increased focus on sustainability issues, travel volumes are not expected to get back to 2019 levels.
Along with the trend towards hybrid working models, employers are also recognising that their duty of care to employees on business trips and expatriates is no longer limited to health insurance alone. While there is still a legal obligation to pay for illness-related expenses abroad4, there is a growing realisation that the range of services and insurance cover options should be extended beyond health insurance protection.
As a result, 75 per cent of companies surveyed ranked safety aspects as their top concern. The broad field of “wellbeing” came in second5.
What was originally a duty of care is therefore increasingly evolving into a “culture of care”.
Business travellers abroad need comprehensive protection comprising insurance & assistance
Extreme weather conditions, terrorism, political unrest and pandemics will always need to be taken into account in insurance policies. How can employees be prepared for long-term secondments abroad? How can they be provided with the best possible assistance and information during their secondment – and what about 24/7? What support can be offered, for example, in the event of mental or psychological crises?
In addition to health insurance, which is fundamental, other solutions are coming into play. For example, there is currently increased demand for income protection solutions (daily sickness benefits and occupational disability insurance).
Most insurers have redefined the T&Cs governing their policies to allow for COVID-19 and pandemics in general. The increased demand for more comprehensive insurance solutions is now also being reflected by insurers’ product managers, albeit somewhat delayed. International health insurers are pushing further into the German market, primarily relying on collaborative ventures with German companies.
Even if it is still not currently possible to predict future developments, it is already clear that companies will be extending or updating their policies for business travellers.
1) VDR; Business Travel Report 2021 – Management Summary, page 2
2) Aon; International Mobility survey 2022, page 8
3) Aon; International Mobility survey 2022, page 8
4) c.f.. § 17 German Social Security Code (SGB 5) in conjunction with §§ 3 ff. German Occupational Health and Safety Act (ArbSchG)
5) Aon; International Mobility survey 2022, page 9